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Friday, December 14, 2012


I imagine that there are not many people out there tonight who are not horrified today.  Who's hearts are not heavy, minds are not troubled.  People who have shed tears, held their loved ones a little longer and a little closer than usual.  Who all of a sudden realized that bitching about the price of gasoline is crass when the price of another's violent action was so dear.

Today's events are truly evil.  People will fling out there gun control, mental health, parenting, warning signs.  The public will be horrified for a while, and then slowly, but surely, we will go back to our daily lives.  The victims' families will have to live their lives; the town will have to heal.

But nothing will change.

To quote one of my favorite bloggers, "This shit doesn't happen in a void".

We live in a culture that glorifies violence.  Especially violence against women, children, the poor, the disadvantaged.  We also live in a culture that commodifies people.  People are viewed as objects to bend to the will of certain authorities.  Consent is optional.  We also live in a culture that values rugged individualism.  Reaching out for help is a weakness.

What does all of the above have to do with today's events? 

First of all, violence is normalized.  Look at our movies.  Look at the video games we see.  Look at all of the bullying that goes on. Humans have a great capacity to be inordinately cruel to people.  I am not just talking physical violence here; people are frequently mentally and emotionally violent as well.  Bullying is accepted, despite the efforts of many to raise awareness.  Maintaining privilege for a few is valued over bringing everyone to equal ground.  What does this have to do with violence?  Violence changes people.  Exposure to violent acts desensitizes people to it.  I can't tell you how many times people come into my office and tell me there was no domestic violence in their home and then in the next breath admit their father "only" slapped their mother, there was "only" shoving, there was "only" things thrown at each other during arguments.  What is acceptable to some is a direct product of their environment.  Most of the time, someone was trying to exert  power and control.  This leads to the second point- people as commodities.

People are frequently viewed as beings who need to submit to authority, to other people who are hostile to the idea of consent and autonomy over their own body and destiny.  Most frequently, this is tied to the idea of abortion, but it goes much deeper than that.  Anyone who is not one of the privileged ones does not deserve to have authority over their lives.  People are disposable, to be used as weapons; something to take anger, fear, frustration, out on.  They need to be just like everyone else.  There is no room for differences. No room for the mentally ill, for those of different cultures, for those who won't submit.

The third point, that people are supposed to be "rugged individualists", ties into the idea that today's events HAD to have had some warning signs.  If I had to guess, I would say that there was some kind of decompensation.  Some kind of "joking" about violence, that was probably accepted because of my first point about living in a culture of violence.  That may have been questioned by one of the "unprivileged", but dismissed because they have no authority.  Or that may have been outright ignored because of fear, because of not wanting to believe it, because people don't want to get involved or make someone get angry.  The idea that you have to take care of your own problems; that society has no responsibility to you.

In order for meaningful change to occur, we have to attack the very fabric that supports these acts.  No one likes to think that we support this kind of thing, but society does in fact do so.  Stigma about mental illness.  Poor access to services.  Easy access to guns.  And a society that gives our children games that make it fun to kill, that makes it OK to exert power and control in unhealthy ways, that makes it normal to marginalize people, and then wonders why we have a 20 year old who commits such atrocities.

No, not everyone who is mentally ill will commit such acts.  No, not everyone who watches or plays violent games will commit such acts.  No, I don't blame the people who could have seen signs and possibly stopped this and did not.  Who do I blame?

Us.  I blame us.  We keep wondering why things don't change; yet we expect that it will be the "others" with the "problems" who change.  When will we see that WE are the problem.  No othering here.  US.

1 comment:

  1. AMEN. This captures so many of the thoughts I had today... that these impossibly horrible things are no mystery. They are direct symptoms of the disease, that it's "someone else" that it's "someone bad" that it must be a mystery, because of course this is America, and people have all kinds of opportunities to be successful- as long as they are in the safe majority of "normal" people and so this is just some horrid, unforseeable tragedy.

    Only it isn't unforseeable. It will keep happening as long as "different" equals "less than" and as long as we as a society view violence and power as strengths instead of weakness.

    What if...
    gentleness and kindness were what got you noticed?
    compassion was more highly prized than salary?
    difference was met with excited curiosity instead of disdain?

    Maybe all of those new little lives would still be with us.

    I hate the "what if" game. I am tired of mourning these senseless tragedies. Change. It starts with me, and I plan on being contagious.